The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. And wisdom is how to do life God's way. It's a skill. That's what it means. The Hebrew word for wisdom is to understand how God has put life together and how to cooperate and do priorities and relationships and money, everything his way. Wisdom is a life that honors him.I'm reading a book, The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham. And I came across a section of it that really struck me. You've got to go back to the 1950s and remember what was happening racially in this country, the beginning of the civil rights movement. Billy's ministry was really beginning to grow and they had the big L.A. movement that occurred. So in northern places and in California he was speaking to mixed audiences of whites and blacks. And then when he went into the south it was segregated audiences. And the reporters were asking him, "Billy, why are you doing this?" Key people around Billy, I mean, I'm sure good hearted people, said, "Billy, in the south you've got to speak to the blacks and you've got to speak to the whites. You can't have them mixed together because you'll lose your base. The people that are financing your ministry and your reputation – don't go there. Don’t get involved in all of this."
And pick up the story, it's really good. "At first Graham tried to carve a middle ground that opposed both forced integration as well as forced segregation. But over time it became such a hot issue that Graham could no longer find any middle ground and they asked him, reporters, over and over why he would never address racism in his messages in the south. Billy chose to make his stand in the heart of the segregated south. He initially agreed to segregate the audience during his 1952 campaign in Jackson, Mississippi but rejected Governor Hugh White's suggestion to conduct separate meetings for blacks." So basically what you had is a room like this where all the blacks or African Americans were on one side, all the whites were on the other side, and you had a rope down the middle. Very interesting, you talk about a radical step of faith.
But rejecting Governor Hugh White's suggestion – he says, "Meanwhile, Billy prepared to make a much bolder statement. Holding segregated events always struck him as wrong but he'd never chosen to take a decisive action until now. Walking toward the ropes that separated blacks and whites, Billy tore them down. Mystified and uncomfortable, ushers tried to put the ropes back up. Billy personally stopped them. This symbolic powerful gesture marked a major ministry watershed. He never again led a crusade with a segregated audience. Graham then got up and said, 'There's no scriptural basis for segregation. There may be places where it's desirable for both races, but certainly not in the church" Graham told his Mississippi audience. "The ground at the cross is level and it touches my heart when I see whites standing shoulder to shoulder with blacks at the cross."
And you know what? An awful lot of what we experience now, and we still have a long way to go, is because Graham took a radical step of faith and he and Martin Luther King, Jr. faced some issues that they got incredible flack for with huge risk. Part of what we think is that Graham is a super noble, super spiritual, super – every time I hear him and as I read – I've read his biography. I've read a lot about him. I've been at the Leadership Center multiple times. I've been around people that have been around him. I don't know him at all personally. That's one of my prayers. Maybe one day I'll get to meet him. But everyone talks about he's really not much different from the farm boy that trusted Christ. I mean, they talk about, "Well, Billy's a regular guy. He's humble."
And so you say, so why does God use some people more than others? Because at critical windows in Graham's ministry and in his life God said, "I want you to take a radical step of faith." And the moment he went and pulled down those ropes he knew his whole ministry could fall apart. His financial base could be gone. So he either is going to fear God or he's going to fear man. Question, who do you fear? Who do you fear? And what makes you so afraid of what they think? And what makes you think that doing things God's way instead of what you think might happen if you don't do it His way will make such a difference?
Second thing we need to do is rejuvenate our faith. The writer of Hebrews goes on. Let me read verses 4, 5, and 6 and just make a point of each. It goes on now and develops, "By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead."
Moving on, so you get this first story about faith. It's Abel and he talks about an offering. And then verse 5, "By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. Before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God." So these first two examples about radical steps of faith are kind of interesting. One guy comes and gives an offering and another guy has this relationship with God where God says, "I don't want you to die. I think I'll take you right now."
And then the third one, it says, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." I just want to make a couple brief observations. First, is if you want to rejuvenate your faith start with the little things. Start with the little things. It's not this big thing over here. And you know what the little things – isn't it interesting, why would Jesus, inspired by the Holy Spirit, when he talks about faith, the very first opportunity to talk about it He talks about finances? One of the quickest, easiest ways to rejuvenate your faith is what you find is Jesus was real clear, wasn't He? You can either worship mammon, money, materialism, security, or me. Option A; Option B. No middle ground. Right?
You are all looking at me like you've never heard that verse before (Laughter). Okay? Matthew 6, you can read it for yourself. I’m not making this stuff up. And then in Luke 16 we have this very interesting parable that Jesus tells about money. And then in verse 10 of Luke 16 He says, "He who is faithful in a very little thing" speaking of finances or money, "will be faithful also in much. But he who is unfaithful in a little thing," money, "will be unrighteous also in much." Translation, if you can't trust me with your money, in the spiritual game of life you're not out of the batter's box. You're barely on the on-deck circle. You're not on first base rounding second rounding third. You may be a believer, you may love God, you may go to church regularly, you may lift your hands when you worship, you may have ooey gooey feelings about God, but if He doesn't have your treasure, he doesn't have your heart.
If you want to rejuvenate your faith, God deserves the first and the best. I mean, minimum is the tithe. I mean, the first 10 percent – 100 percent belongs to him. The first 10 percent you give regularly just to remind you that 100 percent belongs to him and then the 90 percent you're held morally accountable for and then you ask God. He says if he gives you a lot, like if you're an American or an executive or have a good life, "Well, then I expect you to proportionally give over and above that over time and test me and see how powerful I am. I mean, I did speak and the universe came into existence. Like I can't take care of you financially?"
The average evangelical believer in America gives 2.5 percent of their income. And they're just standing before God screaming, "I think you created the universe. I love you, Jesus. I think you can forgive my sin. I think you're taking me to heaven. I want you to provide for all my family. But I'll tell you what, I don't think you're big enough to handle my money. Oh, sorry. I mean your money entrusted to me. I don't believe you. I just don't believe you." And God says, "Okay. I accept that. Then I will remove my blessing and you work out your life with your resources. This whole point was that I don't need your money. My whole point of giving was I wanted to cultivate your faith."
And the quickest, easiest, most clear way to see God work in supernatural ways is when you give wondering where it's going to come from and you watch him supply. A lot of Christians have never experienced that. So if you want to rejuvenate your faith, start with your finances.
The second way to rejuvenate your faith is by pondering big things. You need to start with little things but ponder big things. And this is one of those stories I really wish I could spend more time. Enoch is such a cool story. I mean, there's very little information but it is a very cool story. And I ask myself, when I'm reading scripture, when I come across something that I think, "That's odd." And then I go to, "That's weird." To, "I wonder why that's here." To, "I have no idea. I don't understand this." Is this how you read the Bible as well? I hope. And I'm thinking – I mean, there are a lot of examples. And here He's giving the hall of fame of faith. This is about how to really walk with God. And he starts with Abel, money, and then he goes to Enoch. And he pleased God. And I'm thinking, "Lord, I don't want to tell you how to write your book, but I think I could come up with a lot better ones than Enoch."
And then you go back into Genesis and you say, "Well, what was it about Enoch?" And he's just in one of those genealogies, right? So and so begot so and so that begot so and so that begot so and so and he lived 100 years. And you skip through that rather quickly. And then you hit Enoch and then it says, "And Enoch had a son and after that Enoch walked with God." And then we learn, "He so pleased God, after that God took him." And then you get it. See, Enoch was doing life. Enoch had a lot of emails to return. Enoch had a lot of voicemails. Enoch had a lot of pressure. Enoch had to make a living. Enoch had to prove himself. Enoch was blowing and going. I mean, he lived a long time there. He had time to make a lot happen.
And then he had a son. And he saw life and he saw birth and he realized life's about relationships. And, you know, when they stick you in the box everything you earned, everything you gained, 100 years from now no one knows your name. The only thing you ever, ever leave is the people you touch and the people you love. And apparently Enoch pondered big things. Enoch had this experience where because of the birth of his son he realized what really mattered. And I wonder how many of you have a parent in their 70s or 80s that you have almost no real relationship with? And I wonder what your parent was doing in their 30s, 40s, and 50s when they had opportunity to build a real relationship with you? And I wonder how many people have parents that have almost no relationship with your kids because they were really busy accomplishing really big things, doing really important things?
And now they're sitting in an assisted living center somewhere or you realize, "Mom, Dad, I sure would love to have some connection but when you don't know what's going on in the life of my kids for 20 years, they don't know you either." And I wonder how many people if the Lord doesn't return and the clock ticks 20 years ahead will be sitting alone because you're so busy with stuff that relationships really haven't had the priority in your own home and with your children, with your grandchildren, with friends.
See, if you want to rejuvenate your faith, you first start and say, "Well, okay, God. You know what? Let me get my wallet out here and look at my finances and my security and I'm going to take a radical step. And second, God, I want to ponder what matters. Why do I get up when I get up? Why do I go where I go? Why the to-do list on this to-do list? What really matters in my life? And I think I'd better invest in the things that are going to last forever.
And then the third is not just the little things or pondering the big things, it's remembering the main thing. The main thing is pleasing God. Without faith it's impossible to please God. I think we think unconsciously and it's sort of in the air and in the culture. We think, "If I can get my morals straight, get my family in line, if I'm single, if I can finally get married, if I can find the right person – they say if I fill out all those forms someday, some way I can find that right person. And then I'll go on a missions trip, God. What do you think about that? And I'll get all these things right and then I'm going to get my life to work so I'm fulfilled and happy and everything is pictured just like in my mind. And I'll stop doing these things and I'll start doing these things. And I can't keep all the rules but you've got to understand some." And we just think somehow the goal of life is that our life works out wonderfully. Bzzzz, wrong.
The goal of life is to please God. And you can read your Bible and you can go to church and you can be involved in ministries and you can volunteer at the hospital, with no risk. Am I saying those things are wrong? Absolutely not. What I'm saying is just what the Bible says here, "Without faith, it's impossible to please God." And where there is no risk there is no faith. There may be religious activity, maybe a nice moral person, maybe doing some good things. I've got news for you, there are cults all over America that are really nice people that make great commercials that emphasize the family and they're not pleasing God. Because faith is what pleases God. And to please God you must believe that He is and that He is the rewarder of those who seek him.
The summary here is great risk takers see faith as a verb and not as a noun. We think of it – faith, I have faith. I believe. But when you read this passage what you realize, it's a verb. Do you have the kind of faith: Abel gives, Noah builds, Abraham leaves, Daniel prays, Isaac submits, Sara waits. Faith is an action. Faith is, "God, you said this. There's the chasm. I'm afraid. I’m going to take the step." It's an action to put into practice what your word says based on your character. If you want to be a great risk taker you've got to refocus your fear and get more afraid of God than you are of people and things.
And then you have to rejuvenate your faith by saying, "Okay. Here's my money. That'll get it started. I want to think on the things that are really big relationships. And then God, I want to please you. I don't know if my life's going to work out all perfect and nice and wonderful. I mean, that's what they say in American Christianity is the goal, but I read the end of Hebrews 11 and there are some people that you said so pleased you that the world wasn't even worthy of them. But, you know what? They didn't receive what was promised. Their life didn't work out wonderful. They didn’t see the city. Some were sawed in two. Some were hiding in caves. Some lived lives of intense suffering and they brought you holy pleasure because they were great risk takers. And for all eternity and ever and ever and ever the God who spoke the world into existence will be honored by them and they experienced you and glorified your name.
The final thing is that we need to refocus our fear and then rejuvenate our faith. But we need to recall God's faithfulness. I don't have time to go through this but verses 7 through 40 of the rest of the chapter, I mean, this is for you and a great cup of sweet tea, diet coke, coffee, or water with lemon. I don't know what your drink of choice is. You put up your feet and just read real slow verses 7 through 40 of Hebrews 11 and you recall God's faithfulness.
You ever wonder why that chapter's so long? What's he really doing? Noah saves the human race. Abraham, it's scary, but he gets his own nation. Sara, 90 years old, gets a child. Not bad for a 90 year old woman. Why? Because she went from laughter to believing. Moses delivers God's people. Daniel is delivered from the lion's den. Jericho, the walls fall down. Rahab goes from prostitute to hero. David becomes a king. But it doesn't stop at the end of Hebrews 11. Church history and your life and my life, the goal is that names just keep getting added. And God brings little windows of opportunity to you and to me with our money, our families, our ministry, our security, our jobs. And He says, "This is what it looks like to trust me. Would you take a radical step of faith? Would you risk?" And the only way to risk in the future is by recalling His faithfulness.
Now, I don't know about you but in my life, I've got a lot of demands in my life and I get afraid. And so other than reading God's word every day – you know, why I read God's word every day? I get up in the morning and I read it first. I need to remember that He's been faithful to all these people and He promises to be faithful to me. Because left to myself I forget that. And then the second thing I do is I take all those crazy fears that I have, nearly every morning, and I list them and think, "Oh, I don't know about this and I don't know about this and I don't know about this." And literally I just write down numbers. And then after I write down these in my journal, then I say, "Lord, I can't handle this. I want to give these to you. Show me what the step looks like. What does it look like to trust God?"
What a great question to ask God every day. "What does it look like to trust you today in this meeting, with this decision, with this person, in this video, in whatever you want me to do?" And then two or three days later, I go back and I've got – I mean, I have stacks of these in the last 15 or 20 years. And they had little checkmarks and they had little dates where it was impossible on Tuesday, answered on Friday. It was, "God, please, I don't want to move to Atlanta. I'm afraid to go to Walk Through the Bible. I love the church. I love my security. My wife doesn't want to go. My life is really working here. It's wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. My kids are here. Please, please, please, please, please." "Go." "Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay."
And then of course it's going to be wonderful. No, the first two years are not wonderful. And my wife goes through a horrendous time and there's a dip in the economy. And all H breaks loose. And God purges. And God draws me near. And God takes me through a journey that I would not want to go on because He's always about making me more like His son, than He is using my gifts to impact or love other people. And often when God wants to do something broader through you, He will take you after your radical step of faith to a deeper time with him. And suffering creates dependency. And pain brings an aspect of purity and a purifying of your motives that nothing else can do. And so God will often take you to places where you do not go and then what does He promise? He rewards those who diligently seek him.
So I come up for air three and a half, almost four years later and my wife did not want to come and that was one of my Lordship issues. Willing to submit, I'm willing to do what God wants me to do, but I really want you to know, I do not want to go. And you know what, guys? I think a lot of men especially, especially men who really love God and want to serve their wives and families, I think a little thing happens over time where we get into wanting to please our wives and please our family more than God. And I think every now and then God will tap you on the shoulder and I think He'll say, "You know what? Could we reestablish who the real Lord of your life is?"
And, you know, every decision I've ever made we've been in agreement. And God made it very clear I was to do this. And my wife, she said, "I don't have any verses not to go. I don't have any reasons not to go. I just don't want to go. I will trust you. If you believe it's God, but we're always together on this. Just know, I don't want to go." I've lived with her for a while. Her not wanting to go, this is not going to be like we decide to go and everything's going to be okay. We're going to work through this for a while. And I'll never forget, it was one of those, "Do you fear God or do you fear man?"
And now my wife, we're sitting last night and in the sovereignty of God we left all the things we feared. I sat on a deck last night with two of my sons that were both relocated to Atlanta. And when I came I didn't have any. And every year I've been here I've had a grandchild every year. We're driving home thinking, "You know something? I would have never chosen this path, but God's reward, God's grace, God's love for you never is realized until you take the radical step of faith. And the radical step of faith means you will be afraid and there's risk.
So here's my question. What does that look like in your life? Your next step, what would it look like for you to take a radical step of faith? Is there something or someone God wants you to leave or break off to align with scripture? Is there something or someone you need to return to and make right? Is there something or someone that you need to confront in another person or in yourself? And is there something or someone that you need to step up and fight for, not worry what people think or the implications? God is looking for great Christians. Great Christians take great risks.